Annam Salim is an associate dentist at a health centre in Greater Manchester and carries out mainly NHS dentistry. She tells us about her experience of working in a high-needs area and seeing patients with preventable decay, and her insights on becoming a mother and tackling the 'sugar issue'.
I chose dentistry not just because of the cliché ‘I want to help people’ but because I wanted to join a profession and play an important role in society. I worked hard to get to grips with the different elements of being a dentist and within a few years found a comfortable spot to further my career.
As an NHS dentist, I was working in an area of great need and saw adults and children who had multiple decayed teeth and frequent bouts of pain. I was doing as much as I could in terms of educating, preventing and treating my younger patients, but I often felt helpless as the referral for dental extractions under general anaesthetic was growing. I often found myself asking my nurses and other dentists in the practice, ‘how has it become so bad?’
I became a mother in 2015 and went back to work part-time after 9 months and although it was difficult at first to juggle adjusting to motherhood and going back to work - especially with broken sleep. But I eventually found a happy medium.
My days were spent filling, extracting and crowning, and my nights were spent rocking, feeding and changing nappies. Surprisingly, I would say that this contrast actually made me value dentistry more and found myself extra motivated at work.
One of the major things motherhood made me realise was that children (toddlers in particular) don’t always want to do what they are told.
With my patients, I used to wonder ‘why can’t this mother just brush her kids teeth?’ or ‘is it really that difficult to not give her daughter juice?’ The realisation hit me hard when I tried to brush my son’s teeth and he would squirm and cry. Some days were better than others – he even threw his toothbrush down the toilet!
The sugar issue
Then came the issue of sugar. I was moderate and controlled and stuck to the rules of limiting sugary foods to mealtimes only, and even then I tried to minimize them. My boy literally had only milk and water. I was thankful that I had the correct knowledge - only trouble was it didn’t last for very long.
Throw in grandparents, aunties, uncles, parties, fairs and holidays and all these things become a challenge.
It is inevitable that children will be exposed to sugar in their diet and it is not possible to control every aspect. However, simple steps to educate parents and families can really go a long way.
Some parents don’t have the knowledge of children’s oral health, others know bits but don’t fully understand how to implement them.
You also have those who know, but choose not to act up upon it.
Here are my tips as a dentist and mother:
Bring babies to dental examinations. Around six months is a good age, even if they don’t have teeth
Start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as their first tooth appears (check out the BDA's top tips on brushing for your patients)
Brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day, before bed-time (this is very important) and at least one other time
Make brushing a priority and make it as fun as possible
For children under three years old use a smear of toothpaste containing no less than 1000 ppm fluoride
Look at the sugar content of foods and drinks your children regularly have. Limit sugary foods and try and give them at mealtimes only (one mealtime ideally).
Here are my top tips in full in part two of my blog.
Sugar and children’s oral health
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